How can a parent, a dedicated teacher or a speech-language pathologist improve memory performance of a child? How can we help a kid better remember study material, such as new vocabulary?
A promising and straightforward technique may be simply saying the relevant material aloud. This simple method is based on the ‘Production Effect’ in memory. This effect refers to a memory advantage (of about 20%) for words that were read aloud over words that were silently read. Reading aloud was found to enhance memory for other types of material, such as sentences (text), and was proven useful for students and older adults.
Although many other types of mnemonic have been suggested in the literature (e.g., using acronyms), the Production Effect seems especially appropriate for young children. Saying words aloud is simple (does not involve literacy skills) and can be easily applied in many educational settings and contexts (does not require special equipment). The present study is a first investigation of the Production Effect in pre-school children (five-year-olds). As this population cannot read, we used for the first time pictures of objects as stimuli. Will saying the object names aloud improve their memory?
In the first experiment, we used pictures of familiar objects (e.g., ball, teddy-bear, t-shirt). The children were presented with the pictures and were asked to memorize them. Third of the words were studied by looking at the picture, another third by looking and listening to the experimenter saying the word (the object name), and the remaining third by looking and saying the word aloud. As expected, words that were vocally produced were better recalled (29%) than the heard words (21%) and the “silent” words (14%), a significant Production Effect!
In order to suggest the Production Effect as an effective and valid learning method, we wanted to demonstrate its occurrence with the acquisition of new vocabulary. Hence, in the second experiment we used pictures of novel, unfamiliar words (pictures of rare objects, such as: anchor, manger, cuff, pestle). Our five-years old participants learned these rare words by looking at the pictures and listening to the experimenter saying each word twice, or by looking, listening to the experimenter saying the word once, and vocally repeating it once again. The results showed better memory (recognition rates) for words said aloud (54%) relative to heard words (40%). These results support the Production Effect as a prominent memory and learning tool, even for pre-school children. Vocalizing may serve as a mnemonic that can be used to assist learners in improving their memory for new concepts.